Tories slam ‘decimation’ of financial support for poorest families in Enfield

Labour administration denies breaking election manifesto pledge by agreeing cuts to its council tax support scheme, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Tory James Hockney (left) clashed with Labour's Tim Leaver (right) at Enfield Civic Centre last week
Tory James Hockney (left) clashed with Labour’s Tim Leaver (right) at Enfield Civic Centre last week

The Labour administration at Enfield Civic Centre has been accused of “decimating” financial support for the borough’s poorest residents while also breaking one of its election pledges.

The opposition Conservative group’s shadow cabinet member for finance, James Hockney, said the move to slash the maximum discount on council tax for working age claimants from 75% to 50% filled him with both “sorrow and anger”.

The borough’s council tax support scheme (CTS) will also see some protected groups currently eligible for a full 100% deduction on their council tax bill – including disabled people, carers and Universal Credit claimants – now having to pay 50% of their bills.

Tim Leaver, Labour’s cabinet member for finance and procurement, laid out the changes to the CTS at last week’s annual budget meeting and said in 2013 the Tory government “scrapped its funding for council tax support” and made it the responsibility of local councils to fund.

“Unlike other universal benefits which are funded from central government, council tax support is funded by councils through a combination of council tax, business rates and the balance of any original government funding,” Cllr Leaver said.

He claimed Enfield had “consistently maintained tax discounts for one of the highest numbers of households in London” and said currently over a third of households received a significant discount on council tax. 

The CTS cost the council £40million in 2023/24 and Cllr Leaver said and he projected by May 2026 it could cost £50m if it continued to “operate under the current arrangement”. 

He put this in context saying the council’s high borrowing, years of austerity and bad management by the Tory government, inflation, and increasing interest rates meant the council needed to “amend the scheme”. 

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Cllr Leaver said this would “ bring it into line” with the council’s commitment to provide “£38m council tax support to over a third of Enfield residents” and contribute savings of £5.9m in 2024/25 to help balance the council’s budget.

The new CTS will have three elements. Firstly it will “restrict the council tax support to a maximum band C council tax liability”.  This means properties in a valuation band above C will have their council tax support reduced.

As a result, Cllr Leaver said: “It’s expected that 600 claimants will lose out on an average of £30 a week of council tax support.”

Secondly, the new CTS introduces a minimum non-depedent deduction.  Cllr Leaver said a non-dependent person living as a member of the applicant’s household who was not their partner or child or their responsibility would have to pay council tax. 

He estimated 7,250 households had non-dependents and would be impacted by this change. 

Finally, the changes will standardise the maximum award for most working-age claimants at 50%, excluding war widows and single people under 25,  including care leavers, who would remain at 100%. 

But this means disabled people, carers and Universal Credit claimants will now have to pay half of their council tax bills, having previously been eligible for the full discount.

Cllr Hockney criticised the plans and said: “I’m angry that a Labour group that says it cares so much about low income households is now planning to make cuts to over 31,000 households and therefore decimating finances – it promised to provide council tax support and it has broken that pledge today.”

The Tory councillor said the council had also ignored residents’ responses to last year’s consultation around the CTS changes and asserted that not a “single material change” had been made to the proposals in response to local feedback.

He added that the households most impacted they could face paying an extra £280 a month. 

Following the debate, the CTS changes were put to a vote with 29 in favour, all from Labour councillors, and 24 against, all from Conservative.

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